The 6 Best Minimalist Running Shoes for Women

Try these lightweight shoes on for size

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Minimalist shoes are preferred by some runners because they have qualities that are unavailable in typical running shoes. These shoes have no heightened heel, little-to-no padding, thin soles, versatile and bendable materials, and don't have much arch support.

Minimalist movement enthusiasts feel that removing all the extra padding can create a purer running experience, and that the shoes actually support ankle strength. Your own body supports itself rather than relying on a shoe.

Although standard running shoes feature a heel-to-toe drop of less than half an inch (approximately .4 inches), a minimalist shoe has a drop of .31 inches. This causes your heel and forefoot to run at nearly the same level, almost as if you're running barefoot.  

Here are the best minimalist running shoe options on the market for women, according to a running coach.

Our Top Picks
Checks all the boxes for superior comfort, traction, flexibility, ground ​feeling, foot protection, and durability.
Users love the shoes’ lightweight feel and responsiveness, as well as its comfort and durability.
Offers excellent ground feel for a true minimalist running experience, while still providing the protection your feet need.
With its Polartec NeoShell lining, these shoes will keep your feet warm and dry.
Intended for neutral runners who want a lightweight, yet durable, minimalist shoe.
Feature a precise and snug, but comfortable, fit and a durable outsole for maximum support.
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Best Overall: New Balance Minimus 10v1 Women's Running Shoes

If you want a well-rounded minimalist shoe, the New Balance Women's MT10V1 Minimus Trail Running Shoe checks all the boxes for superior comfort, traction, flexibility, ground ​feeling, foot protection, and durability. With excellent traction and support, it’s extremely versatile and can be used for walking, running on roads or trails, hiking, cross-training, obstacle course racing, and more. The shoe’s premium foam support and a midfoot wrap to help keep your foot stable and comfortable. With a wide forefoot and large Vibram hexagonal treads on the outsole, the Minimus provides outstanding traction and grip, even on ascents and descents.

Runners love that these shoes are comfortable right out of the box, and don’t need a break-in period. The shoe is also treated with an antimicrobial solution to help reduce funky shoe odors. It features a snug, but comfortable, fit, so if you have a wide foot or prefer to wear very thick socks, you may want to consider ordering the men’s version of the shoe.

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Best Budget: Skechers Performance Women's Go Run Ride 6 Running Shoes

Skechers Performance Women's Go Run Ride 6 Running Shoes

With similar features and performance of some higher-priced minimalist shoes, the Skechers Performance Women's Go Run running shoes are an excellent value for your money. These shoes feature Skechers’ GOimpulse Sensors on the outsole that provide flexibility and feedback for a responsive, more natural running experience. They also have a molded heel counter and inner support strap for stable and secure fit. Users love the shoes’ lightweight feel and responsiveness, as well as its comfort and durability. They’re a great option as a light trainer for speed workouts, but can also be used for longer runs. 

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Best for Trail Running: Merrell Women’s Pace Glove Trail Running Shoes

Merrell Women's Pace Glove Trail Running Shoes

The Merrell Women’s Pace Glove trail running shoe offers excellent ground feel for a true minimalist running experience, while still providing the protection your feet need when you take your running off-road. The trail-friendly pad in the forefoot and the Vibram outsole provide great grip, traction, and support, even on rough terrain or wet conditions. The outsole’s grippy lugs are spaced so that none are placed under the arch, which allows your feet to flex more naturally for increased comfort. The synthetic leather and breathable upper material keeps your feet feeling cool and comfortable. The shoes are also treated with M Select Fresh to prevent sweat and moisture from causing shoe odor.

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Best for Hiking: Altra Lone Peak 4.5

altra-running

Altra Running Women’s Lone Peak running shoes are ready for any kind of weather or terrain you want to tackle. With its Polartec NeoShell lining, these shoes will keep your feet warm and dry by creating a weather-resistant barrier between the elements and your feet. The StoneGuard offers flexible protection from rocks and other trail debris, and the TrailClaw outsole combines uphill and downhill lug traction for any kind of rough trail conditions. Altra’s ZeroDrop (meaning no elevation difference between forefoot and heel) and its FootShape toe box allow for a more natural foot position for increased stability and proper form. Whether you’re hiking or trail running, you’ll love the comfort and protection you get from these shoes.

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Best for Walking: Merrell Access Arc 4 Trail Running Shoe's

Merrell

The Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 trail running shoes are extremely versatile and can be used for running, exercising, and walking. This shoe is intended for neutral runners who want a lightweight, yet durable, minimalist shoe. It does feature some minimal cushioning, providing a little extra protection and comfort, and allowing for walking or running on hard surfaces and longer distances. It’s perfect for someone who likes to take long walks or spends a lot of time on her feet.

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Best for Cross-Training: Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe

Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe

Known for its comfort, the Vapor Glove from Merrell is a solid minimalist women’s running shoe that’s a great option for cross-training, hiking, trail running, or even just walking around. They feature a precise and snug, but comfortable, fit and a durable outsole for maximum support and traction. These shoes also have a zero-drop heel, promoting a more natural style of running and a very minimalist experience. Like other Merrell shoes, they’re treated with an odor-reducing solution.

What to Look for in a Minimalist Running Shoe

Pricing

Although it seems counterintuitive, minimalist running shoes can often cost more than standard running shoes. You also might not like the feel of them once you try them. So ensure that the store where you purchase minimalist running shoes offers a reasonable return policy, such as a 30-day return even if you've worn them. This allows you to try them out without worrying about losing your investment. You could find they are worth every penny.

Comfort

The shoes will feel quite different than the raised heel and cushioned lining you're used to in other running shoes. It could take a number of miles for your feet to adjust to this new pared-down version.

Injuries

If you are prone to injury, especially plantar fasciitis or shin splints, you should slowly incorporate minimalist shoes into your running habit. Don't go out on a long run for the first time with them, or you risk injury. Runners who get shin splints or stiffness often need a higher level of cushioning, and minimalist running shoes might not work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do running shoes last?

    The American Heart Association says you should switch your shoes every 350 to 500 miles. This can vary in time, depending on how much you run. When training for a marathon, you should switch your shoes about halfway through your program. Be sure not to wear new shoes, especially minimalist shoes, for the first time on race day.

  • Are running shoes good for walking?

    You can wear running shoes for walking, although you should skip minimalist shoes when walking if you are prone to any foot injuries (as you could need extra cushioning).

    You tend to walk differently than you run; most people walk heel to toe and use more of the bottom of their feet than the quick foot turnover that happens in running. You should look for running shoes with little-to-no flared heel for a better running/walking shoe.

  • How do you clean running shoes?

    Shoes with canvas fabrics can be machine washed with cold water and air dried. For spot cleaning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests mixing water with 70% alcohol. You can then spray or rub this solution directly on the shoe.

  • Can I wear running shoes when hiking?

    You can wear running shoes when hiking, as long as the terrain isn't too rocky or slippery. If so, you should switch to trail or hiking shoes, which have rubber or slip-resistant soles for safety.

    Minimalist shoes could feel uncomfortable on a trail, as you'll feel the rocks and dirt more, but they do allow for greater sole flexibility if you are hiking on miles of uneven terrain.

  • How do I know if a running shoe fits?

    Use the thumb test to check running shoe fit. When trying on a shoe, place your thumb at the top of the shoe and make sure it leaves a half to a full thumb's width of space at the top of your foot. This gives your foot room to expand as you run.

    You also need to feel a high level of comfort with your running shoes, especially if you put in high mileage. If you can, test your shoe for up to 15 miles to see if you encounter any blistering or bleeding.

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

Christine Luff has been with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (TNT) running team in New York City for more than 15 years, coaching thousands of runners who participate in races across the country, including the New York City Marathon. She also trains individual runners to achieve their fastest time in anything from a 5K distance to a full marathon.

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sun X, Lam W-K, Zhang X, Wang J, Fu W. Systematic review of the role of footwear constructions in running biomechanics: implications for running-related injury and performanceJ Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(1):20-37.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19 and your health. Updated June 17, 2021.